AN: Hello, and thank you for taking the time to read my story! Before you begin, I would like to stress that this is categorized as a drama/romance a for a reason, since it mainly focuses on Link and Zelda as they face various trials together - Zelda much more so than Link, since it's told from her point of view. So if you're not fond of drama and romance, you might want to avoid this one. I would also like to add that this is by no means a cute, fluffy fanfic. It is a longer, darker story, and quite depressing at times, but I wouldn't necessarily call it a tragedy. Rest assured I have placed much thought and time into creating a solid, interesting plot that will hopefully keep you reading to the last word!

Oh, and please, please review! Feedback is very important to me, as it helps me approach my writing from different angles. And it keeps me inspired!

I welcome (courteous) reviews of every kind, but PLEASE do not post reviews reminding me about the timelines. I am very much aware of the OoT triple timeline published in the Hyrule Historia. If you look at the pub date of this story, you will see it was originally posted several years before the Historia was published, and thus before the timelines were presented. So obviously this story will not follow them. To be honest, I feel those timelines ruined the OoT storyline (they are all so depressing!), so I prefer to ignore them entirely. Aside from those timelines, I have tried very hard to stay true to Zelda canon - hopefully my writing will reflect that.

Full synopsis: Nearly fifteen years have passed since Link and Zelda sealed Ganondorf away and restored peace to Hyrule. Now married, the two of them lead a happy but stressful life together. Zelda, now Queen and sole ruler of Hyrule, fights to maintain alliances that have weakened since her marriage, while Link, Prince Consort of Hyrule, struggles to gain proper recognition from the High Council so he may one day take the throne at his wife's side.

These issues soon prove to be the least of their troubles, however, when Zelda's former fiancé, King Ashton of the kingdom Vandelius, returns with a vengeance. Aided by mysterious dark forces, Ashton aims to take back not only his former bride but her kingdom as well...

Update 6/10/14: I have officially begun what I like to call the "Epic Edit" of Fortitude, which means I will be ironing out whatever flaws I can find and polishing up the story as a whole. Some chapters will receive more changes than others, but the goal is to create a more inviting and enjoyable read. More info about that can be found on my Tumblr blog (link in my profile). So if you notice some inconsistencies in the chapter headings (or overall quality), it's because I'm still working on the edit.

Thanks again, and I hope you enjoy Fortitude!


Xxx 1 xxX


Darkness.

Ceaselessly it stretched before me, surrounding me. Permeating the core of my being, it clogged my mind, choked my spirit. I groped for an anchor, something to keep me grounded…

Then, gradually, the darkness began to clear.

Two pale blue lights materialized in the distance, their mirrored forms sharpening into torches. At last my eyes could adjust, and in the feeble glow I observed my surroundings.

I stood in a dark corridor, surrounded by rough, dirty walls. A flash of silver caught my eyes, glinting in the eerie torchlight…

Metal bars. Rusted with age, they lined the walls on either side before fading into darkness. Thick, unnatural air filled my lungs, and a mysterious chill clung to my body, seeping deep into my flesh. I found myself struggling to breathe, struggling to think…

Wearing only a simple nightdress, I took a few shaky steps, aware of the dirt and grime which clung to my feet —

Then I paused, halted by an ominous, familiar sound.

Low, rumbling groans drifted from the cells, and through my peripheral vision I saw dark shapes rise to their feet. Suppressing a rush of panic, I focused on the torches ahead, keeping my gaze away from the cells. I knew even the quickest glance could paralyze me.

I pressed on, passing cell after cell as quickly as my stiff body allowed. The groans grew louder, and with every step I struggled to ignore them. My confidence rose as I neared the torches, growing stronger when I spied a metal door at the end of the corridor. I broke into a run, desperate to leave that cursed place…

A terrible, unnatural scream suddenly tore through the silence, snuffing out whatever warmth I'd retained. I pressed my hands to my ears, vaguely aware of my own cries. My body slammed into the bars of another cell, sagging against them as I gasped for air.

Make it stop, make it stop…

What felt like an eternity passed before the scream finally ended, its last eerie note echoing into silence.

Slowly my hands left my ears, gripping the bars as I waited for my pounding heart to calm.

Another quieter sound then drew my attention, and with a start I realized it came from within that very cell. I dropped my hands and stumbled back, straining to identify the sound. I quickly recognized it as breathing… panting. Someone in that cell — a man, I presumed — still struggled to catch his breath.

A man? Here among ReDeads?

I drew closer, and in the pale torchlight I discerned the prisoner's masculine form.

Stripped from the waist up, he sat slumped against the far wall. His arms stretched high above his head, suspended in chains, and his tired body sagged beneath them. His head bowed toward his chest, his face hidden by dirty, overgrown hair. Save for his deep, shuddering breaths, he appeared lifeless.

Sympathy swept through me, urging me to look closer. My hands gripped the bars as I opened my mouth to speak…

A metallic creak startled me, and with a gasp I turned toward the far door. There a dark figure emerged, materializing from the shadows beyond. Tall and cloaked, he carried a dangerous, ominous air.

"Who are you?" I addressed him sharply. "What is this place?"

He strode forward in silence, as though he neither saw nor heard me at all.

"Stay away!" I shouted, taking a few steps back. "Tell me why I'm here!"

Again he ignored me. I watched, dumbfounded, as he paused before the prisoner's cell and drew out a rusted key. I looked to the prisoner, watching as he slowly lifted his head…

Shock jarred my senses, tearing another gasp from my lips. I stared in disbelief, struggling to register his exhausted, familiar face. Blue eyes, still so beautiful yet now… haunted. That rebellious spark I knew and loved had all but faded, strained by misery and fatigue.

"Link…" I grabbed the bars, momentarily forgetting the cloaked figure. "Link, it's me!"

He gave no response.

I clenched my teeth and whirled about, snatching at his captor's arm. "What have you done to him, you —"

My hand passed right through him.

I staggered back, bewildered, but the man gave no reaction, as though I didn't exist… As if I was…

Of course.

I closed my eyes with a rush of understanding. This was all a dream — a nightmare, more like. I existed only as an observer. I could not interact with anyone, nor could I alter the events I witnessed.

Relief swept through me but quickly vanished as the figure unlocked Link's cell and stepped inside. I squeezed the bars, my heart pounding as he approached his prisoner. He snatched Link's chin, jerking his face closer. I strained to understand his sharp, indiscernible whisper before he roughly pulled away. Link sank back against the wall, gazing past him with empty eyes.

After rummaging through his pockets, the man clamped a pair of shackles around Link's wrists and unlocking those which suspended his arms. Link let his hands fall to the floor, his shackles hitting the stone with a metallic thud. He made no effort to escape but sat there motionless, as though nothing had changed.

His captor pocketed the key. "Get up," he growled.

Link did not move.

"I said get up."

Again Link refused. Whether rebelliousness or exhaustion made him disobey, I could not tell.

Aggravated, the man bent down and snatched Link's elbow, forcing him to his feet. Link stumbled out of the cell but managed to catch himself. His chains dragged behind him, rattling with his every step. The cell door clanged shut, and anxiously I moved to follow —

But I could not lift my feet. Some mysterious force weighed me down, as though I wore invisible iron boots. Link and his captor moved on ahead, leaving me to watch them vanish into shadow…

"No… No, wait! Link!"

With great effort I dragged myself forward, desperate to reach them…

"Link — Link, I'm here —!"

CLANG.

The door slammed in my face, just as the shadows closed in around me, engulfing me in overwhelming blackness…

"No, wait, please! Link! Liiiink!"

"Zelda!"

My eyes flew open.

There he was, the same face from my dream, but the dirt and grime — and the torment in eyes — had gone. His gaze held mine, clear and focused, and worry lined his handsome features.

"Zelda," he said again, stroking my hair away from my sweaty face. "Sweetheart, you were crying out again… Are you all right?"

I gazed up at him, caught somewhere between the nightmare and reality. The cold, eerie dungeon lingered in my mind, and my body lay stiff with fear…

Zelda, Link's voice echoed through my thoughts, please say something…

His warmth flowed through our telepathic bond, breaking my trance.

Link…

I reached for him, curling my arms around his neck with a rush of need. He drew me close, breathing a sigh of relief as he shifted into a sitting position.

"You're trembling," he murmured, his hand caressing my back. "What's got you so shaken…?"

"I saw it again," I whispered. "I saw you in that awful dungeon…"

"The same dream?" I felt his surprise through the bond. "Are you sure?"

I nodded against his shoulder. "But this time I saw a man…" I paused, struggling to recall his image. "He was… hooded and cloaked… He forced you out of your cell…"

"He forced me out of my cell?"

I pulled away to meet his gaze, my hands gripping his shoulders. "He forced you into another room… I tried to follow you, but I couldn't, and I — I knew something terrible was going to happen… I wanted so badly to help you, but I couldn't —"

"Zelda, darling," he spoke over me, cradling my face in his hands. "You're safe now — we both are. Everything's all right."

"No, you don't understand; it — it's always so real… and there's always such a strong sense of foreboding…" I looked him in the eyes, forcing myself to speak the words. "…I think it's a premonition."

He studied me a moment, and I sensed his unease through our bond, despite his efforts to conceal it.

"Then we'll work through it," he said softly. "Just as we always have."

I shook my head, refusing to be so easily consoled.

"It frightens me, Link," I whispered. "You were in such a terrible state… If anything like that ever happened to you…" I trailed off as he leaned in closer to kiss the corner of my mouth.

"Nothing will happen to me," he murmured.

"You don't know that," I argued. "If this is a premonition then something will happen to you, Link…"

"If it is a premonition then you are having these dreams for a reason. And when the time comes to act, you will know what to do."

"But what if I don't?" I whispered. "What if —"

"Shh, darling," he soothed. "No good will come of fretting over what might happen, certainly not at this hour. Right now you need to sleep…"

I sighed and lowered my gaze, aware of his eyes on my face.

"I don't mean to dismiss you…" he murmured, stroking my cheek.

"I know," I mumbled. "It's just… I'm not sure I want to sleep."

Link hesitated, then drew me closer with a sigh. Come here...

I came willingly, burying my face against his throat while he settled back against the pillows.

I'm right here beside you, he soothed, kissing my forehead. And don't worry… Everything will be all right. You'll see.

It was an empty reassurance, but Link spoke the truth — fretting over fragmented, unclear visions wouldn't change anything. If the gods had truly sent me a premonition, I prayed I would understand it before something terrible happened.

Link ran a slow, soothing hand up and down my back, but I felt our bond weaken as he drifted off. How he could sleep while I dreamt of his impending doom was beyond my comprehension.

Pushing those negative thoughts from my mind, I closed my eyes and snuggled closer, drawing comfort in his familiar touch. Eventually his hand slowed to a stop, and his quiet, rhythmic breathing lulled me into a blessedly dreamless sleep.


xxxxxxx


Warm sunlight filled the bedchamber as Link and I readied ourselves for the day ahead. We had reached the end of our private morning routine, which always saddened me a little. For once we left our chambers, our roles became far more complicated than husband and wife.

I became Zelda Ariadne Harkinian, sovereign Queen of Hyrule, and Link became my Prince Consort, as well as the Lord General of the Hylian Royal Army. Unbeknownst to our people, Link and I carried additional titles — sacred titles bestowed by the Golden Goddesses themselves. I was the Sage of Time and Link the Hero of Time. Together we used our extraordinary gifts and talents to defend our beloved kingdom.

Link and I had first crossed paths nearly fifteen years ago, when fate had called us to defend Hyrule against the Gerudo usurper king, Ganondorf. Link had left his home in the Kokiri Forest and traveled halfway across the kingdom to find me. Together we tried to thwart Ganondorf's evil plan, but our efforts failed. We had been only children at the time, and no match for the mighty Gerudo king. He seized control of Hyrule, and our kingdom fell into an age of darkness. We called this time the Imprisoning War.

Ganondorf reigned for seven long years — until Link and I came of age. Together we emerged from the rubble, ready to fight him again. In the end, Link defeated Ganondorf in battle, helping me banish him and the Triforce of Power to another dimension.

But our victory had been bittersweet. Only a shadow of our once glorious kingdom remained, and we feared our victory had been too late. Therefore, with the aid of powerful magic, Link and I decided to turn back time and undo the war entirely, erasing Ganondorf's evil — and Link's heroic deeds — from history.

Our memories remained unchanged by this magic, as did the friendship we had forged. Over the years that friendship eventually blossomed into love — one forbidden in Hylian society.

Link had served in the military since he was fourteen – two years younger than the age minimum. His outstanding service eventually earned him knighthood status in my father's court, but his common background had made our relationship impossible. Only after years of secret courtship did we finally earn the right to marry — with my father's blessing.

Despite our happiness, I had worried about the radical changes Link would face as my consort. I could not solve every problem we would undoubtedly face, but I could make our chambers a home for him. Having grown up in the small, isolated Kokiri Village, Link had never known or wanted aristocratic luxury. He had roomed in the castle apartments for some years before our marriage, but even then his quarters had been sparsely decorated, and he kept few possessions. Keeping all this in mind, I had our private suite decorated and furnished with Link's humbler tastes.

Our bedchamber walls had been painted a light brown to complement our darker furniture, and each piece bore a pleasant organic design. Rich green upholstery matched the drapes, and a subtle, leafy design had been embroidered across the matching bedcovers. Paintings and pictographs had been placed here and there, and across our hardwood floor laid a beautiful Gerudo rug. I had commissioned their finest weavers to create a design reminiscent of trees, and the final result suited the room perfectly. But perhaps the loveliest feature was our balcony overlooking the gardens, and the double glass doors leading out to it.

Joined to the bedchamber was our drawing room. I had given this room a few more embellishments simply because we entertained guests there. Soft blue walls complemented the dark furniture, save the plush white sofa which sat before the grand fireplace. Two massive bookshelves lined the far wall, lined with our favorite titles and other keepsakes. Deep blue drapes matched the chairs' upholstery, and another Gerudo rug covered the floor with a pale, floral design.

Also joined to the bedroom was a smaller, unused room, which Link and I had reserved for a nursery. Between the bedchamber and the drawing room was the master bath, conveniently accessible from either room.

Link had said my presence alone made any place his home, but I had sensed how much he appreciated my efforts. Our new dwelling had become my sanctuary as well, but only because he shared it with me.

.

"A Council meeting," Link muttered. "What a lovely way to start the day."

I sat down before my vanity, eyeing his reflection in the mirror. "The meetings won't stop when you're coronated, you know."

Link sighed, noting my optimism. "Yes, but the Council would serve as my advisors, not my judges," he said. "And plus I'd be with you."

He cast me a smile through the mirror, which I returned sweetly, pretending to be coy as I brushed my hair.

I sensed he was nervous, as he always was before our meetings, and I could hardly blame him. This was no routine meeting; it was an evaluation of Link's performance as Prince Consort. Every two weeks the Council assembled to decide whether Link had proven himself worthy of the Rite of Kingship — the first and most important step toward coronation.

Nearly six months after Link and I married, my father had passed away due to his long-term illness. His death had been untimely, since our physicians had predicted he would live another few years, and the Council had urged me to take the throne as soon as possible. I was coronated less than two months later, but Link remained Prince Consort because the Council had denied him his Rite of Kingship.

The Council's reluctance stemmed from their uncertainty regarding Link's common background. Having been an orphan all his life, Link knew nothing of his origins. Even his surname remained a mystery — he had taken my maiden name when we married.

I was not the first sovereign queen to rule Hyrule, but I was one of few. The Hylian monarchy was meant to be ruled by a king and a queen, side by side, each with his or her own duties. A lone monarch shouldered twice the amount of responsibility, and this had proven quite challenging for me. Painfully aware of my struggles, Link fought to earn the Council's approval, hoping to one day take his rightful place at my side.

"I think it will go well today," I said cheerfully, selecting a pair of earrings from my drawer.

Link cast me a cynical glance as he fastened the cuff on his sleeve.

"I'm sure they'll find some reason to deny me. They always do."

"There's no need to be pessimistic. You did so well in the last meeting."

"I'm not being pessimistic. I'm simply speaking the truth."

"Well, they'll have to see the error of their ways eventually," I said, turning my head to attach the second earring. "Otherwise they're just fools."

Link gave a quiet laugh. "I certainly hope you have no fools on your Council. Though sometimes I do wonder…"

I sighed, knowing he meant Vasilis Durithan, the Minister of Foreign Affairs.

A conservative, traditional man, Vasilis remained a fervent believer in preserving the "purity" of the royal bloodline. He had always disapproved of my friendship with Link, and he had fervently opposed our engagement. My father had silenced Vasilis' open opposition, but, to ease the Council's uncertainty, he also agreed that Link's Rite of Kingship should require their unanimous consent. Vasilis was not the only minister uncomfortable with Link's kingship, but he was the most unyielding.

"Even he will run out of excuses," I assured him. "You'll see."

"I hope you're right," Link sighed, gazing out the balcony doors.

I studied him sadly, noticing his circlet still lay on his bureau. It was a simple gold piece, featuring only a small engraved Triforce — three joined triangles, symbolizing the three Golden Goddesses and the gifts they bestowed upon us: Din of Power, Nayru of Wisdom, and Farore of Courage. I picked it up and went to him, placing it so his hair loosely framed his face.

"There," I said softly, my fingertips brushing his cheek. "Handsome as always."

He gave me a withering look, then leaned in to kiss me — just as a knock sounded outside our chamber doors.

"My Lord and Lady?" a muffled voice called.

Link pulled away with a sigh.

"Come, love," he said gently, "the scrutinizers await."


xxxxxxx


We assembled in the Council Chamber, a spacious room with tall windows and a vaulted ceiling. Tapestries bearing the Hylian royal crest — a soaring red phoenix crowned by a golden Triforce — hung in rows of three along opposite walls, giving the otherwise simple room a look of importance.

A long stone table stood at the center, accompanied by eight elaborately carved chairs — one for each Council member and one for me. The ends of the table offered enough space for two chairs, so the king and queen sat side by side. The second chair was used only when Link was permitted to attend.

As usual, the ministers had already gathered around the table before Link and I arrived, and reverently they stood while two guards closed the double doors. Link and I then separated, approaching the end of the table from opposite sides.

All six ministers had attended, sitting in rows of three on either side. To the left sat Lord Timothus Dale, Minister of State Affairs; Lady Renae Evans, Minister of Religious Affairs; and next to Link sat Lord Kinsley Daltor, Minister of Military Affairs as well as Link's personal advisor.

Kinsley had known Link since he first enlisted in the Hylian Royal Army, mainly because the late Captain Shayne Anders had introduced them. Shayne had insisted Link was a military genius, and, because he had far exceeded the minister's expectations, Kinsley accepted Link as his only pupil.

The two men had taken active roles in Link's life, mentoring him through his adolescent struggles. Shayne taught him to find strength and meaning in the difficult life of a soldier, while Kinsley tutored Link in politics, history, etiquette — everything a proper courtier should know. I owed both men my immeasurable thanks. Without their influence, Link might never have earned my father's approval.

On the right side of the table sat Lord Matteus Barringer, Minister of the Treasury; Lady Elena Seymour, Minister of Judicial Affairs; and Lord Vasilis Durithan, Minister of Foreign Affairs. Next to Vasilis, and directly beside me, sat Mistress Impa, last of the Sheikah tribe and my childhood caretaker. For the past several years she had served as Council Dignitary and Hyrule's representative in the Alliance — a century-old coalition forged between many nations of our world, including Hyrule.

The kingdoms of the Alliance varied in size, culture, and influence, but the code established long ago served to minimize conflict. If a dispute could not be settled peacefully, the Alliance often interfered to end the conflict as painlessly as possible. Members of the Alliance also shared a number of advantages, such as trade agreements and military assistance.

Each kingdom had a representative who studied politics and maintained communication with Antheia, the Alliance's independent city located east of Hyrule, which Impa visited twice per year.

As the only known survivor of the Sheikah, an ancient tribe long devoted to protecting the Hylian royal family, Impa's striking appearance added to her intimidating demeanor. She dressed simply, usually in dark, form-fitting clothes, and she always tied her snow-white hair back into a short tail. Her most notable feature, however, were her blood red eyes — something all Sheikah inherited.

Despite her shocking appearance, Impa was the closest I had to a mother, since my own had died shortly after my birth. Link and I both loved Impa dearly, as she did us.

"Councilors," I greeted them with a nod. "Please be seated."

The ministers obliged, and I waited until everyone had settled into their chairs.

"As you all know," I continued, "we have gathered for our monthly discussion regarding my husband's eligibility for kingship. Let us begin with a general consensus. Lord Timothus," I addressed the elder minister, "what have you to say on the matter?"

"I have no complaints," he replied. "His Highness makes a regular appearance in court, and he welcomes our honored guests with her Majesty as expected. He keeps informed on even the most remote villages, and he has used his limited power to aid those of lesser fortune." Timothus shrugged lightly. "I find him worthy of the Rite of Kingship."

"I agree with Lord Timothus," said Lady Renae, a slight woman with graying hair tied neatly behind her head. "Prince Link has demonstrated his worth in more ways than one. The absence of a king has put pressure on Hyrule's monarchy for months now, and I believe coronating his Highness would only strengthen our reputation —"

"Speak for yourself, Minister," Lord Vasilis interrupted. "The prince may do a fine job within our borders, but his conduct outside of Hyrule could do with some improvement."

Nervously I waited for him to elaborate, aware of Link bracing himself for humiliation.

"As you all know," Vasilis continued, "he recently traveled to Malchevia to negotiate a trade agreement with King Helmerin. Those negotiations failed."

"What?" Link exclaimed, forgetting to control his tone. "You must be mistaken. Lord Helmerin signed the treaty —"

"And severed it nearly one week ago," Vasilis finished.

Link stared at him, momentarily speechless, and the silence, though brief, was deafening.

"Why was I never informed of this?" he inquired.

Oh no… I tensed, suppressing the desire to silence Vasilis' reply.

"It no longer concerned you," the minister said. "Lord Helmerin did not wish to negotiate with you again. We wouldn't have a treaty at all if her Majesty had not interfered."

I stiffened, closing my eyes as a thick tension filled the room. I didn't dare turn my head toward Link.

"…I see," he finally spoke, his voice tight but remarkably controlled. "And did Lord Helmerin provide some explanation for this sudden change of mind?"

"It's your common background," Vasilis said bluntly. "Helmerin was not aware of your origins when you signed the treaty."

"Now just a minute," Kinsley spoke. "If you're suggesting Helmerin severed the treaty because of Link's humbler background —"

"This should be a genuine concern," Vasilis spoke over him. "I firmly believe that, as things currently stand, his kingship would jeopardize Hyrule's reputation within the Alliance."

"That is a gross exaggeration, Vasilis," Kinsley countered.

"I disagree," the elder minister snapped. "And as Minister of Military Affairs, you should be far more concerned, Kinsley."

"Gentlemen, please," I said, raising my hand for silence. "Bickering will accomplish nothing; please restrain yourselves."

The two ministers exchanged dark looks but settled back against their chairs.

.

Link's chances did not improve as the meeting progressed. The ministers continued to argue about his conduct in various foreign matters while I struggled to maintain order. Link had long fallen silent, and I could sense his usual frustration.

Please end this,his quiet plea echoed through my mind.

I sighed and cleared my throat. "Councilors, please!"

Immediately they paused, giving me their undivided attention.

"Since you have once again failed to settle on some kind of agreement," I told them, "I urge you to explore this matter further in your own time. Hopefully, by the next evaluation, you will be able to properly address each side of this debate. Mistress Impa will keep me updated on your progress. You are dismissed."

Obediently the ministers rose from their chairs and filed out of the room. Knowing Link and I wished to speak in private, Impa placed a comforting hand on his shoulder and followed after the others. The doors closed behind her with a resounding thud.

Link and I seldom shared an uncomfortable silence, but that moment was surely one of them. Unable to stand it, I spoke first.

"Link, I —"

"If you're going to clean up my messes," he cut me off, his blue eyes boring into mine, "I would like to know about it."

"I'm sorry," I whispered. "I just… I didn't have the heart to tell you…"

"You don't have to protect me from the truth, Zelda. I'm not a child."

"I know," I replied, holding his gaze. "I know, and I'm sorry; it was foolish of me."

Link studied me a moment, then rose from his chair and moved to a nearby window. "I don't know what to do anymore," he said wearily, resting his hands on the sill. "Earning the Council's approval is difficult enough, but now I must appeal to every neighboring kingdom as well?"

"No, Link," I said softly, moving to join him by the window. "They just want to approach this with caution. Our marriage is new territory for everyone."

He sighed and shook his head. "Politics, history, etiquette, I've studied it all for years now. I've done everything that's expected of me, but it will never be enough. I will never be enough."

"Link…" I placed a hand on his shoulder, caressing it briefly. "Look at me."

Slowly he turned to meet my gaze, looking thoroughly dejected.

"It's been nearly two years since we married," I reminded him gently. "Less than six months have passed since I took the throne. For people so deeply rooted in their old traditions, that's not very much time. They are still adjusting to you. To us. One day they will recognize what a gifted leader you are. Just give it time..."

He lowered his gaze, considering my words, but then shook his head.

"Once a commoner, always a commoner," he sighed. "That's how it is for them, Zelda. They recognize my military service, but as a king I'll ruin your family line and the prosperity of Hyrule."

"Link, you know that's nonsense."

"But some people believe in that nonsense," he said, frustration sharpening his tone. "They hold an undying prejudice toward something I can never change. How can I possibly gain their approval when their minds are closed?"

"You carry on the way you always have," I soothed, cupping his cheek. "They just need time."

Again he shook his head. "Even time won't change that."

"Link…" My hand left his cheek as he turned for the door.

"I should go," he muttered. "I'm late enough as it is."

But I caught his wrist, causing him to meet my troubled gaze.

"I'm so sorry, Link," I whispered. "If I could make things better I would…"

"I know you would," he soothed. "I don't hold anything against you."

"I want you to be happy…"

"I am happy, Zelda…"

I shook my head sadly. "No, you're not. You deserve better than this."

"Now don't you start that," he said gently, moving closer to touch my cheek. "I just want to be at your side, working with you, the way it should be."

"But you are at my side, Link; you're my husband…"

"And I'm thankful for that every day." He sighed and tucked a stray wisp of hair behind my ear. "I just wish I didn't make things so difficult."

"You're not the one making things difficult. I have never blamed you for any of this, and I never will." I slipped my arms around his waist and gave him a fond smile. "Believe it or not, I'm proud to call you my husband."

He gave me a cynical look, but I caught the hint of an appreciative smile.

"Even when our so-called allies sever age-old treaties because of me?" he asked.

"Absolutely," I murmured, resting my cheek against his chest.

"You're impossible." He sighed and dropped a kiss to the top of my head. But I do love you.

.

We slipped back into the hall a few minutes later, supposedly unnoticed. Link paused and reached for my hand, bringing it to his lips.

"My Lady," he murmured, pressing a kiss to my knuckles. It was a formal gesture he used only in public.

I smiled and squeezed his fingers, feeling him squeeze back before he pulled away. I watched him go, slipping back into my worried thoughts —

A sudden chill slid down my spine, and instinctively I turned to find Vasilis watching further down the corridor. Wordlessly he turned and hurried away, but I had seen the animosity in his gaze.